Adding The Division

The Division, Times Square

It took me a while, but I found out where I purchased The Division. In January of 2018 there was a sale on Humble’s Store, and I was able to pick up The Division for $20. Not bad, considering it’s now going for $5. In this day of multiple digital storefronts, from Steam to GoG, from Humble to GreenManGaming, Uplay to Twitch, it could have been anywhere. In trying to keep organized, I logged my purchase onto my master spreadsheet and then promptly moved on to playing Star Trek Online‘s 2018 anniversary event. However, I didn’t remember that I owned The Division until I started to hear about The Division 2. Once more in the middle of now Star Trek Online‘s 2019 anniversary, I thought ‘why not, let’s see what The Division is all about’.

Going into The Division, all I could remember were the complaints that distinctly put it into MMO territory. For a game that revolves around guns, the bad guys took way too many shots to take down. Also, PvP in the “Dark Zone” was a mess and not really worth the effort. Gear disparity, especially in PvP, was an issue. But that’s about it. I knew the story took place in New York City during a disaster of epic proportions. Also, my only experience with a shooter MMO has been Defiance, which wasn’t a bad game, in my opinion, just really repetitive in their overused events.

The Division, New York, snow

Occasionally the snow really comes down and you get whiteout conditions.

What The Division ends up being is a mixture. Similar to Guild Wars, the safe zones and headquarters act as social hubs to find groups, but the open world is instanced just for you. Similar to Guild Wars 2 and Elder Scrolls Online, movement across zones has a feel of point-to-point completion. Finally, similar to Defiance, the shooting feels tight with a nice selection of different weapons, but uses cover mechanics instead of shielding technology.

Where The Division shines, though, is in the extreme attention to detail in the setting. New York, falling apart due to a catastrophic plague, in the dead of winter. Seeing packs of rats scurrying around, dogs roaming the streets, piles of garbage on the sidewalks, apartments looking like they were vacated in a hurry, and even down to the small details of snow accumulating on your character’s shoulders and hat, or the pricing board of a local coffee shop.

In the Assassin’s Creed series, the focus is on performing multiple executions of figures from history. That’s part of the fun. Those figures from history really existed and usually died in either large battles or unknown circumstances. Placing the player in the part of being the “real” cause adds a nice fictional layer. In the same way, The Division, instead of murdering historical figures, has you going through intense fire fights in famous landmarks. I’ve only made it halfway through the game so far, but missions have taken place in Madison Square Garden, Lincoln Tunnel, and Times Square. Having lived near the New York area, it has been extremely satisfying seeing these landmarks used in this way.

The Division, explosion

Well, that’s the risk you take when you carry a tank of napalm on your back.

My downsides to The Division are pretty much agreeing with the complaints that I’ve heard of. The bosses are real bullet sponges, and with your character getting seriously punished for being out of cover, end up feeling quite frustrating at times. Also, the story, though interesting, is only presented in drips are drops through vignettes: phone recordings, futuristic style “echos”, or other stories of survival. Not bad drips and drops, though, but not enough to really balance the combat and the environment. Halfway through the game we’ve mostly figured out who started the plague, and how they started it, but that’s about it. Also, the “how” was really given during the game’s introductory video, so figuring out how the plague started really didn’t come as a surprise.

Overall, though, the graphical detail and the setting are really the game’s strengths. Coupled with the decent feeling combat, they outweigh any of the negatives I listed, making The Division a really enjoyable experience. Even more than I was anticipating. I don’t think I’ll ever see this as a serious multiplayer title, having not even dabbled with grouping yet, but as a single-player experience I’m really enjoying it and glad that I finally gave it a shot.

// Ocho

Re-Exploring The Sky

No Man's Sky Next, perfect planet, Ocho II, Mucalls system

Flying over Ocho II, it’s lush red grass as far as the eye can see.

It’s been a while since I’ve played No Man’s Sky and, to be fair, I thought I had completely written this game off entirely. When it first released in August of 2016 I fell deep into the hype trap, even shelling out the full $60 tag, something I am usually loath to do, and was subsequently burned. Once bitten, twice shy. After some more recent hype revolving around No Man’s Sky, though, this time with a $0 pricetag since I’ve already bought into it, I decided to hop back in and check out what has really changed since launch. Find out what the ‘Next’ really means of the now titled ‘No Man’s Sky Next’. Turns out, quite a bit has changed.

First of all, I find it weird that I’m using terminology and treating this game like it’s some sort of MMO, which now that there is some sort of real multiplayer going on I guess it is much closer to that now. For all intents and purposes, though, No Man’s Sky still feels mostly single player. Which is fine by me. Usually, as a solo player, encountering other players in MMOs turns adversarial. We’re either fighting over the same drops, the same mobs, or fighting each other. That, as players, we’ve grown to consider this infighting ‘good, normal’ and ‘the way it should be’ is… odd. But I digress.

No Man's Sky Next, freighter

Coming in for a landing on the freighter Deep Space Ocho.

I remember when No Man’s Sky launched it felt like a wide ocean of content that was only a puddle deep. Everything was large and grand, but nothing felt important. There was no weight. Upgrades were acquired almost by accident and the primary focus was exploration… of similar, not-that-exciting locations. You could complete 99% of the game by just staying on the same planet you started on.

Now? Well, I’m not *entirely* sold that it’s monumentally different, but it does feel a lot better. The focus has absolutely changed. Now the focus is about building up your properties, your freighter fleet and your base, and completing the story missions. Your time spent on planets is transitory, hitting up only the points of interest you need to, and moving on. Which is good, because the less you see and pay attention to the procedural generation, the better. There was just not enough difference in the generation before. Now, it just feels… better. Planets feel more varied and look more populated. There’s more variety. I mean, there could always be even more variety in a game like this, but you don’t see the man-behind-the-curtain as much as you did two years ago.

No Man's Sky Next, random creatures

What were the devs smoking when they made *this* a possibility?

Upgrades, too, seem to be made more from progress than from randomness, which is a much better feeling than just stumbling across the best weapon/ships in the game. That random big find is still included, too, though, but now instead of finding a big new ship, you now find a big *broken* ship that you need to spend a good chunk of time and resources fixing.

Again, it feels productive, not accidental. This is good.

No Man's Sky Next, big red ball

Ah yes, the big red ball… things.

Also, we need to talk about the screenshot capabilities. They are, hands down, the best screenshot options I have ever seen in any game. Period. And I consider myself a screenshot aficionado, so I don’t say this lightly.

At any time you can pause the game to take a screenshot. When you do, you can move the camera to any position around your character to take it, within a large distance. On top of that, if the lighting isn’t right, you can change the time of day and the position of the sun. You can add/remove clouds, change the depth of field, and even add an Instagram-like filter on top of all that. For real, all other games need to take a page from No Man’s Sky’s screenshot book. Screenshots are your players methods of advertising your game for you, and having a system like this only helps you.

No Man's Sky Next, rings, ringed planet

The Rings at Night! Glow Big and Bright! *clap clap clap clap* Deep In the Heart of… of… wherever this is.

So will I keep it up? No, of course not. I’m a rambling gamer and will pass quickly from game to game as my whim takes me. However, with No Man’s Sky focus having changed to one that feels purposeful instead of accidental, I’m a lot more apt to keep it going. Plus, the entire game fits into only a 10 GB footprint, which is efficient and impressive as anything.

It currently is still sitting at $60, though, which I wouldn’t say feels entirely worth it, but if it falls back down to $30, or even $40, I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest snapping it up.

 

// Ocho

 

P.S. – If you’re looking for a good planet to settle down on, I highly suggest planet Ocho II in the Mucalls system. Red grass, bright sun, abundant resources, and a pleasant temperature all year long. Nice place to vacation. Just don’t murder me, okay?